Kids' planting project kicks off extension service 'learning garden'
SEBRING - Kate Stewart showed the kids gathered Tuesday a potted passion vine complete with a slithering caterpillar. The children learned that the evergreen climber is a host plant for butterfly eggs, which, then, get sustenance from nectar plants when they are all grown up. In a few minutes the passiflora and its critter was headed to a butterfly garden the kids were planting as part of a Highlands County Extension Service 4-H Club daylong summer camp. Sisters Victoria and Phoebe Lackey, who do a lot of gardening at home, were looking forward to doing some more.While Victoria likes to see things grow, from tiny seeds to full-fledged trees, Phoebe likes the end products - eating the fruits and vegetables grown with her own hands. Right now, the butterfly garden sits on the edges of a big open area at the back of the extension service's office on George Boulevard. But what looks like an empty lot is not going to remain a sea of grass for long. 4-H Agent Lauren Hrncirik said it is the site of an ambitious "learning garden," and the Tuesday planting kicked off the community project. The idea is to have a one-stop location for all types of plant life - from Florida-friendly vegetation to medicinal plants to an aquaponics system - in their backyard for the community to enjoy and learn from. It's a pay-as-you-go project, Hrncirik explained, and how big it gets will depend on community contributions and the available resources. A fall harvest event is in the works and right now they are looking for someone to donate the fencing. Nurseries are welcome to give plants and other growing materials, and signs will be placed announcing the donors, Hrncirik added. The hope is that when residents approach the Master Gardeners for advice, they can send them to the learning garden to see first-hand what the experts are talking about, she said. Students could come for field trips and it would give 4-H kids, almost half of whom are involved in gardening projects, another hands-on project. The 4-H folks are partnering with the Master Gardeners, and Master Gardener Charlie Reynolds said some of the plants came from a greenhouse where they keep and grow plants from seeds and cuttings. The learning garden also is one of many recent community outreach projects the Master Gardeners have been involved with. To Hrncirik, it will not just offer a venue to teach and learn about plants and vegetables, but fits right where we all live - the heart of agricultural country. To contact the extension service, call 402-6540.